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Mohammed Assadi

Written by: Staff
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KUFR EIN, West Bank, May 13 (Reuters) Palestinian women in the West Bank are resorting to the cheapest methods to produce staples like bread as financial curbs on the Islamist Hamas government make it harder by the day for families to be fed.

At her home in the village of Kufr Ein, near Ramallah, Hind Ahmad, breaks bits of wood for a fire she is using to cook and bake bread in a makeshift clay oven in her yard.

It is not work the 52-year-old school principal is accustomed to, but having not been paid for more than two months, she cannot afford to make food in any other way.

''I have to use this primitive method to save money and feed my children,'' she said, her face flushing red and hot as she leans down to shove dough into the flaming oven.

''Every time I bake bread, my face turns as red as a tomato, not to mention being tired from inhaling the smoke.'' Like 165,000 other Palestinians employed by the state, Ahmad, who as a senior teacher would normally make about 2,000 shekels (450 dollars) a month, has not been paid since the Hamas-led government came to power in March.

Because the United States and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group, foreign donors and local and international banks are no longer transferring funds or financial aid to the Palestinian government, in part fearing US sanctions.

As a result, Hamas has virtually no income to run the government, which is already around 1.3 billion dollars in debt.

The restrictions, which also include Israel withholding 55 million dollars a month in tax revenues it collects on the Palestinians' behalf, threaten to strangle economic life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where 3.8 million people live.

Ahmad said she, her unemployed husband, two sons and a daughter had not eaten meat since March. She said she was relying on rice she had bought before and vegetables planted in her back yard.

MONEY BOXES EMPTY While foreign powers mediating in the West Asia decided this week to set up a mechanism to channel some funds to the Palestinians, it is not clear when the mechanism will kick in or if it will be used to pay salaries.

Um Mohammad, another teacher in Kufr Ein, said the crisis had forced her to resort to wood as a source of energy to feed her eight children, two of whom are university students.

''I never cooked on wood and I am allergic to smoke but I have to save money in every way possible, no matter how primitive it is. This is my responsibility,'' she said, stirring a pot of chickpeas on a stone-made stove to make hummus.

MORE REUTERS SI VP0850

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